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© Eddy BERTHIER/WikiCommons
© Eddy BERTHIER/WikiCommons
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Belgium's Musical Sensation Stromae Traverses All Boundaries

Picture of Anne Boyle
Updated: 13 January 2017
Best known for chart-topping hits such as “Papaoutai” and “Alors on Danse,” Belgian artist Paul Van Haver – otherwise known by his stage name Stromae – is a force to behold. With his strong lyrical prose matched with catchy beats, the maestro himself is lauded as a top Francophone singer that’s managed to sell out international venues such as Madison Square Garden while achieving critical acclaim among global audiences. An impressive feat no doubt, as the artist has been able to make waves in pop culture and become an icon that embodies true Belgitude.

Among Stromae’s artistic music videos, there is also a series of impromptu performances during his tour of the U.S.A. Filmed at various locations, sometimes with his musical ensemble in tow, the singer-songwriter delivers stripped down versions of his singles, giving a breakdown of the musical composition to stateside audiences. Clearly, many of these locals did not get the notice that a chart-topping European artist is in their midst, as the artist seems to perform in complete obscurity from a subway in New York to a hole-in-the-wall dive bar in Seattle and staged chapel scene in Los Angeles.

Yet Stromae is arguably far from anonymity as this humorous and ironic series also cuts to scenes of his sold-out performances around Europe, which is all part of his steady rise to fame to become a household name beyond the confines of his native Belgium.

Launched into the mainstream music scene thanks to the success of his first single, ‘Alors on Danse,’ back in 2010, Stromae was able to set the stage for his explosive sophomore album, Racine carrée, in 2013, topping the charts not only in Belgium but in several European countries including France, Germany and the Netherlands. Not to mention a mass of record-breaking downloads and album sales that would follow worldwide due to the popularity of hit singles such as ‘Papaoutai,’ ‘Formidable,’ and ‘Tous les Mêmes.’

At face value, it’s not surprising to see how these carefully delivered tracks, a mixture of hip-hop and house inspired by his Belgian-Rwandan roots, are able to find mass appeal. Yet as the world dances to these seemingly bright anthems, Stromae seamlessly depicts tough life experiences in his lyrics by touching upon topics ranging from loneliness to disease and an ever-growing gap of isolation due to technology. Even the track dubbed ‘Moules Frites,’ a title that refers to Belgium’s national delicacy, is used as a metaphor to address sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS.

This twofold dimension of acute lyrics masked by a danceable beat is what has made his artistic style so unique on the music scene, and that is only further represented through his performances. Take ‘Tous les Mêmes’: a catchy synthpop track about gender stereotypes and love. The music video features Stromae split through male and female personas – a vision that perfectly harmonizes the lyrics and music to deliver a complete package of entertainment.

Nonetheless, this perfectly choreographed vision is also achieved through Stromae’s somewhat androgynous style. The curious pop colors and patterns that are a quintessential part of his act in ‘Papaoutai’ and many other songs are an integral part of the singer’s artistic vision. This crossover takes a more literal approach, as the character of Stromae takes a backseat for Van Haver to pursue his current fashion project with creative partner and wife Coralie Barbier. Aptly named MOSAERT, the unisex fashion line takes inspiration from African prints and, like a true Belgian, a dose of surrealism, bringing these iconic costumes from the stage to mainstream culture.

Whether pushing boundaries on the musical end or fashion front, it is clear Stromae is able to resonate with people regardless of the linguistic or national confines that may occur for some artists – which is nothing short of impressive for the strictly Francophone singer. Be it the sounds of his music or his lyrical depiction of shared human experiences, the realist that he is reminds us that life is far from dull and grey. On the contrary, Stromae reminds us to dance.